By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Belton Lady Tigers’ softball team has three regular freshman starters that regularly start in the field and two freshman pitchers that start JV and have had varsity appearances.
The Big Red Fab 5 have made a significant mark on the program already in the 2016 season. And it starts at the top, working its way through the lineup and hitting the scoreboard with alarming regularity.
Leadoff hitter Avery Drake is the energetic second baseman with lightning quick speed, the team’s best batting average (.533) and on-base percentage (.573), leads the team in at-bats (75), runs (30), hits (40), triples (4) and stolen bases (21). She is also tied for second on the team with 17 runs batted in and leads the team in average with runners in scoring position (.667, 18-of-27). She has made just one error, good for a .977 fielding percentage.
“She’s probably the fastest kid that I have had since I have been the head coach,” Belton head coach Matt Blackburn said. “She has 17 RBIs in the leadoff spot, which tells you that the bottom of the lineup is doing a great job getting on. She does things sometimes that are jaw-dropping, like opening up the game with a triple against Midway. A pleasant surprise with the glove. She is the real deal.”
Caleigh Robinson splits time between the fifth and sixth position, while producing like a three or four-hole hitter. Belting a robust .433, Robinson has 26 hits in 60 at-bats, is third on the team in doubles (8), tied for second in runs batted in (17), is third in hit-by-pitches with three and tied for fifth on the team in walks with six. She has a homer, is hitting .462 with runners in scoring position (12-of-26) and has an on-base percentage with .507. She also only has one error, but in 131 chances, a slick .992 fielding percentage at first base.
“She has done very well, hitting in the seventh slot,” Blackburn said. “She has done great things at first base so far.”
Madison Ward has played in 18 games so far and has 39 at-bats. She is hitting .410 with 16 hits and has 10 runs batted in. She has an on-base percentage of .500 and is a torrid .563 with runners in scoring position (9-of-16). She has also seen three games in the circle, two of which were wins. It is the first time since 2013 since a pitcher not named Sidney Holman has collected a victory in the circle. Most notably, her two victories came at the start of the Lady Tigers’ 18-game winning streak. She has a crazy knuckleball that provides a change of pace from Holman’s 69 mile-per-hour heater.
“Ward really provides up depth in the outfield, in the circle and at the plate,” Blackburn said. “She has come up big as well at key times at time.”
Taylor Tubbs and Madison Cotton have been getting looks on the varsity level. Both Tubbs and Cotton throw with good velocity and serve as scout team pitchers, while getting the job done on the junior varsity squad. Tubbs has hit a pair of homers on the JV level, including smashing a grand slam at Tiger Field. Cotton has hit well alongside her freshman partner and plays first base very well.
“Whenever we need them to pitch in that role, they do a great job for us,” Blackburn said. “Tubbs throws hard and keeps the ball down, similar to (Midway pitcher) Morgan Ling. Cotton throws a riser that is hard to hit. They are certainly above the level of what we usually see in the district. Comparable to Ling, but she has that maturity and experience which Tubbs and Cotton hasn’t experienced yet. They will be great pitchers in this program, as long as they put in the time. Sidney Holman is the perfect example for them to follow about the constant drive to be the best.”
So what does all of this equate to? A solid freshman class of stellar freshman that can hit the ball with consistency, get on base with frequency and score with alarming regularity.
Combined statistics you might ask? In batting, 175 at-bats, 54 runs, 83 hits, 19 doubles, five triples, one home run, 45 runs batted in, 17 walks, 22 stolen bases, .480 batting average and 40-of-70 with runners in scoring position (.571). In the circle, the freshmen at 2-0 in five total appearances, 14 innings pitched, six earned runs allowed, four strikeouts, four walks, 19 hits allowed and an earned run average of 3.00. The key to the freshmen’s success in the circle is that they keep the ball down and let their fielders do the work.
Yes, the Lady Tigers have had successful freshmen come in throughout Belton head coach Matt Blackburn’s tenure. But this could very well be one of Blackburn’s most successful freshman classes. And all playing on the right side of the defense.
The 20-2 record, with an 18-game winning streak and a number-four rank in the state, it speaks volumes for the success.